Connecting people through Storytelling

I grew up listening to my Mother’s riveting tales on partition and the hardships most at the time had to endure – just to survive. Those stories had a profound impact and remained engraved in my mind. So much so, when I visited the Partition Museum in Amritsar, where related historic facts have been very thoughtfully and carefully curated – felt I was reliving some of those stories again, albeit in a different environment?

 ‎Storytelling maybe a buzz word today – much like content marketing not so long ago. However, storytelling actually dates back to as long as time itself for which earliest records were found in Egypt in 700 BC. It appears almost everyone told stories to entertain, communicate and convey tales of valour and courage. So, why is it only now that people are realising the importance of storytelling in brand marketing? 

Essentially, we are all driven by emotions and memories. If a brand can connect with people though a suitable emotional trigger; it becomes more real, infinitely more personal and definitely more compelling than an advert banging on about how amazing the product/service’s features are. The over marketing that exists today between thousands of brands and consumers – all vying for our attention has led to the need of fostering an authentic and emotional connect with consumers.

 ‎Take for example one of the best and most valued brands in the world: Apple. From the time they launched the personal computer to the invention of the iPod and subsequently – venerated iPhone, Steve Jobs used masterful storytelling to communicate to target audiences his story behind the innovation in a simplistic yet impactful manner. By forging this connection, he was able to create a whole community and cult of veritable Apple junkies! Jobs invariably built the narrative through suspense and aspiration, drawing his audience in. Whilst everyone can’t be as skillful as a Steve Jobs, storytelling can be done by just about anyone as long as one focuses on some key techniques:

Try building in suspense and a sense of mystery around the story as it makes people curious to find out more. There is always that riveting desire to find out the unknown, and the drama and tension that helps drum up interest. It’s always the “not knowing what to expect” that drives us to see a movie or explore a new experience or even destination. Besides Apple, I would also state Land Rover does a marvellous job with their video series combining facts with fiction; reflecting their brand values in uniquely captivating ways.

Make it real – people are suckers for a true story and hearing about personal experiences. Humanising your brand and talking about real people who benefit and what a positive difference it makes to someone has a deeper resonance. The predictable triumph over evil, rags to riches or a hero’s voyage are stories we can keep hearing. Dove does this brilliantly – their focus has always been real people while keeping the messaging simple.

Data storytelling works really well for some channels which use fact based insights and analytics to tell a story. Info-graphics and sharing trends can create meaningful engagement. Google interactive info-graphics are probably the best example of how detailed and engaging this form of storytelling can be.

Attempt purpose driven storytelling. In the current time, customers are increasingly influenced by brands and companies that have a purpose, or companies which are environmentally conscious, have ethical practices in sourcing, handling and more importantly – treat their employees well. This builds long term trust with a brand. Tata’s in India lead the pack with their legacy of giving back to the community and nation building‎; while affording a framework of respect and voice to each member of their staff. 

Experiential/Immersive storytelling – which is really a combination of experiential marketing and storytelling through immersive experiences. A great example of this strategy is Starbucks that uses its physical stores to create unique experiences and an inspirational environment to tell and share stories.

There are many, many such techniques and one size will clearly never fit all. A story can take its inspiration from anywhere as long as it is relatable and can connect with target audience. Effective brand storytelling should typically be viewed from any of the three lenses: those that can help inspire action, stories that drive beliefs and finally the ones that influence buying behaviours, which eventually create enduring and lasting bonds with consumers. 

 ‎I believe storytelling is soft power that can connect communities across continents and influence people through positive emotions. People are essentially almost the same everywhere you go; sure – they may look different, have different cultures, cuisines, practices: but they are all human beings with emotions. If one can connect this fascinating interconnected world with storytelling, one can almost certainly have an inclusive and global brand to hand.

So – given the progress man has made over the last 2600 odd years or so, including with the sophistication and nuances of storytelling since the ones recorded in Egypt: go ahead and tell yours so as to bind people. After all, we are invariably connected through narratives and tales which can be passed down generations – just like my Mother passed on her partition ones to me.

Rakhee Lalvani
VP, Public Relations and Corporate Communications, IHCL

Rakhee heads PR and Corporate Communications for IHCL on a global scale. With almost 27 years of experience within the hospitality industry , she has held several roles in the realm of Sales & Marketing at IHCL. She is currently responsible for handling PR and Corporate Communications on a global scale for about 151 hotels across all its brands; Taj, Vivanta, SeleQtions and Ginger. She provides advice and guidance to the Managing Director and Executive Committee on companywide communications related issues, interfacing with media and acting as company spokesperson, developing strategic relationships with media.

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